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Under US pressure, Lula delays Brazil docking of Iran warships

February 10, 2023 at 4:16 pm

Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva gestures during a meeting with governors at Planalto Palace, in Brasilia, Brazil, January 9, 2023 [Mateus Bonomi/Anadolu Agency]

Brazil bowed to US pressure and declined an Iranian request for two of its warships to dock in Rio de Janeiro at a time when Brazilian President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was planning his trip to Washington to meet US leader Joe Biden, sources said.

Brazil’s decision represents a gesture for closer ties with the Biden administration after US-Brazil relations soured under Lula’s far-right predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro. The move came despite Lula’s long-standing opposition to US sanctions on Tehran, advocating for a neutral foreign policy, Reuters reports.

On 13 January, Brazil granted permission for the IRIS Makran & IRIS Dena ships to dock in Rio’s port during 23-30 January, according to a post in the official government gazette.

That window has been scrapped, with the ships now authorised to dock between 26 February and 3 March, Brazil’s Foreign Ministry said.

A US official with direct knowledge of the situation said the prospect of Iranian warships in Rio ahead of Lula’s meeting with Biden on Friday “was something unpleasant we wanted to avoid.”

“There were a lot of behind-the-scenes conversations about this, at many different levels,” the official said, adding it was good news that the dates would no longer coincide.

A Brazilian military source confirmed that the federal government, via the Foreign Ministry, had shifted the dates and blocked the Iranian ships from docking.

“It’s true that there was a veto (from the government),” said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The Iranian ships could not come during this period.”

A spokesperson for Brazil’s Foreign Ministry said it was a “wrong assumption” to say Washington had pressured Brazil.

“The ships not coming between 23-30 January had nothing to do with us, and then it was re-scheduled to 26 February-3 March,” said the spokesperson. “Nothing to do with the US.”

The US State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Diplomacy with Iran was one of the highlights of Lula’s efforts to bolster Brazil’s international standing during his previous presidential mandate.

In 2010, he sought to broker a nuclear deal between Iran and the United States, travelling to Tehran to meet then-President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Lula recoiled at US sanctions on Iran, and has declined to choose sides in the Russia-Ukraine war, saying Brazil is neutral and wants dialogue to reach peace.

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